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Chaplaincy

Tuesday, First Week of Advent

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness? on them light has shined." -- Isaiah 9:2

In the Heart of the Light

"What had happened was that I had fallen asleep at last and drifted into nightmare. I was imprisoned in stone. I knew then what men suffered who are walled up alive. But I was able to think, and I thought, Shall I scream and beat against the wall or shall I keep my mouth shut and be still? I wanted to scream because it would have been the easier thing. But I didn?t. And when I had been still for a little while I found myself edging forward. There was a crack in the stone. The hardness pressed against me upon each side in a horrible way, as though trying to crush me, but I could edge forward through the crack. I went on scraping through and at last there was a glimmer of light. It came to my feet like a sword and I knew it had made the crack, a sword of fire splitting the stone. And then the walls drew back slightly on each side of me, as though the light pushed them. I had a sense of conflict, as though the darkness reeled and staggered, resisting the light in an anguish of evil strength. It had fearful power. But the light, that seemed such a small beam in comparison with that infinity of blackness, kept the channel open and I fled down it. There was room now to run. I ran and ran and came out into the light.

I had escaped. I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that I nearly fell. I sank down on the ground and sat back on my heels, as children do sometimes when they are saying their prayers and are tired. It was ground, not stone, it was a floor of trodden earth. The stone walls were still there but the light had hollowed them out into a cave and they no longer frightened me. There was a lantern in the cave and people were moving about, a man and a woman caring for a girl who lay on a pile of hay. And for a newborn child. As I watched, the woman stooped and put Him into His mother?s arms. An ox and ass and a tired donkey were tethered to the wall of the cave, and their breath was like smoke. I was not surprised, for the strange changes of a dream never surprise me. It was like one of the nativity scenes that the old masters painted, only not tidy and pretty like those. The girl was exhausted, her clothes were crumpled, and the sweat on her face gleamed in the lantern light. The man was dusty and tired and not yet free of the anxiety that had been racking him for hours past. The woman was one of those kindly bodies who turn up from somewhere to lend a hand in times of human crises. She made soft clucking noises as she gave the baby to His mother, and the two women gave each other a long look of triumph before the girl bent over her baby. He was like all newborn babies. He looked old and wizened, and so frail that my heart nearly stopped in fear, as it always does when I see a newborn child. How could anything so weak survive? His thin wail echoed in the stony place and then was stifled as He sought His mother.

They?ve not come yet, I thought. All the prettiness the artists painted isn?t here. No angels, no shepherds, no children with their lambs. It?s stripped down to the bare bones of the rock and the child. There?s no one here. And then I thought, I am here, and I asked, who am I, Lord? And then I knew that I was everyone. We were all here, every sinner whose evil had built up those dark walls that held Him like a trap. For looking around I saw that the cave of the nativity was very small. The walls were pressing in upon Him close and hard and dark the way they had pressed in on me. And the old claustrophobic terror was back on me again, but not for myself. I remembered the rocks of the wilderness and the multitude of sinners surging in, selfish and clamorous, sick and sweaty, clawing with their hot hands, giving Him no time so much as to eat. I remembered the mocking crowd about the cross and the thick darkness. I remembered the second cave, the dark and stifling tomb. Two stony caves, forming as it were the two clasps of the circle of His life on earth. And I remembered Saint Augustine saying, "He looked us through the lattice of our flesh and he spake us fair." Shut up in that prison of aching flesh and torn nerves, trapped in it? The Lord of glory? I remembered the sword of light that had split the rock of sin, making for me the way of escape to where He was at the heart of it. At my heart. At the heart of everything that happened to me, everything I did, everything I endured. He was not the weakness He seemed, for He had a sword in His hand and all evil at last would go reeling back before it. He had entered the prison house of His own will. And so He was not trapped, nor was I. There was always the way of escape so long as it was to the heart of it, whatever it was, that one went to find Him.

The shepherds were coming. I could hear them singing, a homely rough singing, and a little out of tune. And the high sweet piping of a shepherd?s pipe. I shut my eyes and listened and it came nearer and I woke up."
---From The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge
Offered by Glynis Asu
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